The Grizzlies saved Saturday.
Wait, I’ve used that lead before? Through two games, this series feels an awful lot like the first-round series against the Clippers: A discouraging 20-plus-point loss in Game 1 followed by a disappointing but ultimately encouraging close loss in Game 2. In that series, the Grizzlies then won four straight. That’s very unlikely here, but the Grizzlies seem to have regained some confidence and made some adjustments and certainly can return home with more hope than seemed possible at halftime of this one.
The Grizzlies were down three with 5:18 to play in the first half when Mike Conley was called for a phantom third foul and went to the bench. A combination of Conley’s absence, growing frustration, and some searching lineups — abetted by the Spurs’ continuing fine play — sent the Grizzlies into a 15-3 tailspin to finish the half, including one scrum-as-metaphor in which the Grizzlies’ missed six layups in nine seconds.
The Spurs lead by double-digits for the entire third quarter and seemed to be in complete control. Tony Parker was decimating the Grizzlies’ defense with dribble penetration. Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard were nailing threes. And three of the Grizzlies’ five starters were MIA. Same as it ever was.
Somehow it was a 12-point game entering the fourth quarter, but you’d come to expect that the next Spurs’ dagger is always a possession or two away. And sure enough, when the Grizzlies cut it to 8 early in the quarter, Parker responded with back-to-back baskets to bring the Spurs’ lead back to 13.
But the Grizzlies got the right lineup on the floor (with Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter playing most of the quarter), Zach Randolph found a rare groove, and the defense finally dialed in, using a 21-9 fourth quarter and a Tony Allen hard-sell of a hard foul to give the Grizzlies a chance to tie in the final seconds, which they did with a righty Conley floater to force overtime.
In the final five, Hall of Famer Tim Duncan made big plays on both ends while the Grizzlies seemed mentally and physically exhausted, taking bad shots or leaving good shots short.
They couldn’t pull it out, but the Grizzlies really got into the Spurs for the first time in that fourth quarter, giving home fans a reason to believe that the growth pattern the team followed in the first and second rounds may yet be viable.